In the beginning, there was Jess.

Seeing as the anniversary of the first show was this week, I asked Bright Club Southampton founder Jess Spurrell if she could share the story of how Bright Club came to Southampton. Here’s what she had to say:

“Over a year ago, I was talking to an English student at a Feminist Society meeting, the theme of which was ‘Women in Science’. “I always liked science,” she said to me, “but I also knew that English was my thing and that’s what I would study. Though I do miss science.” This got me thinking: the choices we make when we leave school are far more limiting than we realise. As an adult working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) it’s fairly easy to continue an interest via evening classes and social groups in the arts, in learning a language, in history or philosophy or many other subjects. However, for those that don’t choose the STEM path, there is no easy way to continue feeding an interest – particularly an active interest rather than the passive reading of tech magazines etc. – in these areas. There are no evening classes in Aerodynamic Structures, for example, no weekly meetings in the village hall of ‘Crafts and Quantum Mechanics’ (or, at least, none that I’m aware of!). And so, I started mulling over this new challenge: STEM outreach for adults.

Some months later I find myself on a train watching over someone’s shoulder as they created an origami leaflet for ‘Maths Stand-Up’. Maths, combined with stand-up comedy. Stand-up comedy combined with origami…Maths AND stand-up AND origami? Surely this can only be a good thing! The next thing I know I’m navigating the maze that was Reading train station in middle of refurbishment deep in conversation with Matt Parker (of Festival of the Spoken Nerd and Things to Make and Do in the 4th Dimension) about this ‘outreach for adults’ idea and he tells me about Bright Club.

Bright Club, which started in UCL, takes researchers – and not just from STEM backgrounds – and puts them on a stage, in front the general public, where they do stand-up comedy about their research. The original club in London has been running for more than 6 years and the idea has spread to Manchester, Glasgow, Guildford, Belfast – even Sydney, Australia! ‘What about Southampton?’ I muse…

Fortunately, the University of Southampton has an excellent, enthusiastic and well-connected public engagement team so when I took the idea to them they did two crucial things: they put me in touch with two other PhD students who also mentioned a desire to start a Bright Club in Southampton; and they offered their support – “If you run it, we’ll back it.”

This second point is what made all the difference. For, when two students (Paul Gow and Joe Spencer) had tried to start a Bright Club Southampton previously, all they hit were brick walls. But this time those brick walls weren’t there, all the obstacles faced were overcome, and many obstacles that could easily have been there, this time, weren’t. Which is why Bright Club finally came to Southampton.

One year on we have an ever growing committee of enthusiastic PhD students, post docs and university staff from both the University of Southampton and Southampton Solent University. Nikhil Mistry, who performed in our very first show, has been running Bright Club since the first event and has done an incredible job. I cannot wait to see how much Bright Club continues to grow in the coming years.”


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